Our sweet (and crazy) Zachary turned two on Monday. He has been such an amazing addition to our family and although he keeps us very busy, I couldn’t imagine our lives without him. He is adored by his siblings and they fight over him, his hugs, his kisses, and his crazy antics. He’s such a sweet guy, a total mix of his two brothers. I can’t wait to see who he becomes.
Our sweet Beppy girl is FOUR! She has been waiting so long. The last eleven days (since Katie’s birthday) have been especially difficult. “Your birthday is next” meant “the very next day” in her little heart, and we had a lot of tears to wipe the morning after Katie’s birthday when we informed her that she still had ten more days to wait.
I love this girl. There is a love that is so deep, so fierce. Of course I love all of my kids, but this girl has a special place in my heart. First, she is the only of my children to make an appearance early (six days early, bless her heart!) That in and of itself awards her favorite child status. But more than that, we share a love language. We both speak and listen in words of affirmation.
I have never met a child like this girl. Ever since she was about ten months old and could sign, she has been saying please and thank you without being prompted. She hasn’t changed since. She is quick to offer affirming words at any and all occasions. Regularly she throws her arms around me and says, “I so very love you.” When dad brought her to see the toy kitchen we gave her this morning, she ran to him and said, “You’re the best dad ever!” This morning when I was making her cake, she said with all seriousness, “I’m so sorry.” “For what?” I asked. “For not being able to stay three forever.” (She knows I LOVE THREE).
Bethany Noelle is such a blessing to our family. I can’t wait to see what God does with her amazing personality. I know it’s going to be huge!
Our sweet Katie is seven. SEVEN.
Most of the time, time passes and I wonder where it all went. It usually seems as if it goes so fast. But with Katie, I can’t say that. The beginning of her life marked the beginning of so much of mine that I find it hard to believe all that has happened in seven short years.
When Katie was three weeks old, we found out that we were unexpectedly leaving our job in Florida. We had no idea where we were going to go. The next month was filled with a lot of anxiety as we wondered about life with four kids age five and under with no job, no house, no insurance, no ideas. But God…I love that most of my stories have a “but God” phrase where His amazing power gets all the glory.
But God had plans for us, plans we knew nothing of, plans that would give us breath and life. This post is about Katie, though, so I won’t go into all that moving to Indonesia did for me, for our family, or about how the grief of missing it is so thick right now.
I can’t help think of Indonesia, though, when I think of our sweet Katie. At four months, we moved to the island of Java, and while there we have watched her grow into this sweet, crazy, selfie-obsessed freckle-faced girl. She keeps us laughing, she keeps us guessing, and she keeps us in awe of God’s creativity in creating her.
I wanted to be a mama.
Really, it’s all I ever wanted.
I dreamed many dreams about holding my babies, about a little girl running around in braids, about pouring out love immeasurable.
During my freshman year of college, hitting the lowest possible low a human heart can hit, I sat at the sink of my dorm room making a choice: a choice to end the pain or to hold out hope for a family.
Hope won out and God’s grace and love quickly filled the many broken parts of me. I switched schools, waited while others planned their weddings, and prayed for the little girl in braids.
After three miscarriages, many tears, and learning what a sacrifice of praise was, God gave me a beautiful gift. Alaina, her name chosen while I was still in high school, was born in a hospital in Bangalore, India.
And now, twelve years later, my mama heart still beats strong. In a world that uses awful phrases like, “just a mom,” my heart is filled with songs of praise that God would allow me the privilege of watching and taking an active role in one of HIs creations growing into His eternal purpose for their life.
And what a privilege it has been to be a mama to this girl. There aren’t words enough to describe my sweet Alaina. Perfect, she is not. Perfect, I am not. That’s why we have the hope of eternity. One day we will fully be like our Creator. Until then, we stand amazed at the many facets of His personality we get to display here on earth.
She’s eager to learn.
She loves the Lord.
She loves her siblings.
She is an amazing cook.
She doesn’t complain.
She loves to travel.
She loves to read.
She loves to write.
She, like the rest of my children, are a blessing to me. But more than that, oh so much more than that, I pray that she will be a blessing to others. I pray that the ripple effects of a life lived in love and grace will extend to the farthest sea. I pray that Alaina will see and understand God’s great love for her and that He purposely chose her for this family, for this time, for this place. None of it was an accident. None of it is without purpose. He has great plans for this girl and I will continue to pray that she will willingly enter into this great love and purpose for her life. It’s gonna be a good one, of that I am sure.
And now, more for my enjoyment rather than yours, a very long photographic walk down memory lane. Twelve years. I am so thankful.
Although I wasn’t feeling well, it was very important to me that I be present for Christmas. I spent a lot of time praying that I would be well enough to be with the kids and have fun. I didn’t want this to be “the year mom ruined Christmas.” Even in my struggles, I am very careful with my words and attitudes toward the kids. They are precious to me and every time I speak to them, even in discipline or training, I want them to know deeply that they are loved and valued. So much is communicated through tone of voice! When mothers are fighting their own struggles, it’s easy to let the kids take the brunt of it. But their little hearts are just too precious for that. I promised myself that if I couldn’t be kind and gentle in my words, I excused myself and went to my room.
Thankfully, the Lord answered my prayers and although physically I wasn’t doing well, I was able to be mentally present enough to enjoy our Christmas traditions such as decorating cookies, making our spaghetti Christmas Eve dinner, making Thai Mango Sticky Rice for Christmas breakfast, and getting through a long day of opening and enjoying gifts. We had a wonderful turkey dinner in there too. I am thankful that I don’t think the kids will have any memories of me being sick this year. Instead, they will remember happy times as a family and with grandparents and what is probably the biggest Christmas they have ever (or will ever) have.
And just a note on the gifts. There were a lot this year. Part of it is simply having six kids. Part of it is that for the first time in many years, Jason and I exchanged gifts. We have spent the last three years in transition and therefore say no to the kids (and ourselves) all the time. We don’t want to buy stuff that we can’t take with us. And while that is still true, we expect to be in one place for a bit longer this time and so this was the year we said yes. Our kids are the most grateful and loving kids and they have never complained when we didn’t have money to buy much or when we don’t purchase things through the year. Christmas and their birthdays are the only time we buy them things. It was fun to indulge them a bit this year. When they have grateful hearts, it is so fun to surprise them with abundance. I wonder if this is how God feels too.
And now for the pictures.
Another Christmas done. It’s hard to believe that this is our 15th Christmas as a married couple and our 11th as a family. I love that we always have a special morning together, with just us, celebrating God’s gift to the world and our gifts to each other.
- Zachary’s first Christmas (wearing the same PJ’s that all of the kids have worn for their first Christmas)
- The magic of a two year old on Christmas morning (and watching her progressive wardrobe change)
- Mama-made Christmas PJs for all the kids (wrinkled from a good night’s sleep)
- Gratitude and excitement for gifts (we rarely buy anything for the kids through the year, making Christmas and birthdays truly special)
- Another white Christmas (we buy 10 pounds of cotton batting each year so we can have a “White Christmas”)
- Our traditional red and green Thai Sticky Rice with Mango
- A special gift from Alaina: 15 years of Christmas memories typed and presented to me. I love that she knows me well enough to know how much that would mean to me.
- A special gift from Caleb: A huge hand drawn picture of “DRAWWORLD.” I love to see his creativity. The details are amazing!
- Two boys feeling grown up with their new iPod shuffles.
- Two happy girls anticipating a “girl trip” to Kuala Lumpur at the end of January
- Two happy boys anticipating a “boy trip” trip to Legoland in Malaysia at the beginning of January.
- Being surrounded by these amazing people I get to call family.
*In an effort to give an update on the last seven months, I am posting monthly reviews for June-December 2013. Feel free to catch the others here: June, July, August, September, October, and November.
What November lacked in photos, December more than makes up for it. I was feeling so much better — physically, yes, but also emotionally and mentally. The pregnancy fog that plagued me for so long started to lift and I was starting to feel like myself again. The things I normally enjoy (like taking photos) was fun again. Plus, with three Christmas celebrations, a 17 day trip, and lots of firsts (like sledding!) there was a lot to photograph!
The month started off strong. Since we were going to be leaving on a trip to Michigan later in the month, we wanted to be sure that we took time to celebrate Christmas as a family first. So, we got right to work decorating, wrapping, and preparing for our December 8th family Christmas.
Days leading up to our family Christmas were filled with baking, preparing, school, and getting ready for our trip.
Our “Christmas” morning started off as usual: stockings, pictures in Christmas jammies (opened the night before), and breakfast together. Thai sticky rice (in red and green!) is always the request!
Then we moved on to gifts!
All the present opening wore us out (as evidenced by Miss Bethany pretending to nap with her new blankie and pillow pet), so we cleaned up and rested. Then, I took the kids out for a bit so I could get some photos of them. It had been a long time since I took them out specifically for photos. Caleb was sick and we were losing light fast, but we were still able to get a few good ones.
The next day, I made everyone get dressed again to try for a few family pictures. It was a complete failure, but at least we got some laughs out of. Not one picture that I love, but a lot that make me giggle! And yes, I am completely embarrassed to show the ones of me in the them. I hate them all. But hey, this is real life and this is sometimes what we get. In case you are wondering, I set my camera on a tripod and I use a remote timer that I set to take a photo every three seconds.
Mixed in with packing and getting ready for our trip to Michigan, the next week was filled with some leisure. Walks with the kids, baking, and just soaking in the beauty of God’s creation. Almost nothing brings me so close to the Lord than stopping in awe and wonder at His beautiful creation. His creativity — even in the smallest details — leaves me awestruck.
On the 15th of December, we drove to Michigan to spend the holidays with family. On the 17th (in addition to celebrating 13 years of marriage!), we celebrated Christmas with Jason’s parents and brother. One of the first orders of business for the day was for Caleb to wow us with his magic show. He had been practicing for a few weeks and he did a great job!
My favorite part of the day was getting to spend it with our sweet Lucy! She isn’t able to live with us at the missionary home so she has been living with Jason’s parents. I can’t wait to have her back with us again!
On the morning of the 21st, the kids got to experience for the first time what they were most excited about: SNOW! Michigan got a light dusting and long before the sun was up, our kids were out enjoying it!
On December 23rd, we made the seven hour trek to Madison, Wisconsin, to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my side of the family. It was a fun time to be all together and my younger sister and her husband were great (and gracious!) hosts. Christmas morning was a bit insane, but even Santa found some time to snooze.
On the way back to Michigan, we had the pleasure of spending a few hours with former coworkers from Indonesia. What a blessing it was to get together!
Once we got back to Michigan, the kids were thrilled to see a good amount of snow. They LOVED playing and sledding on the piles dumped in Wisconsin and so they were thrilled for a few more chances to enjoy it before heading back to North Carolina. And I was thrilled with the local salvation army that helped us get all five kids outfitted for under $30! No use spending lots of money on things we probably won’t ever be able to use again!
The final event of our trip was something that we had been meaning to do all month and just hadn’t had the chance to do yet: make gingerbread houses. It isn’t something we had ever done before, so when I saw these kits at Hobby Lobby on Black Friday, I thought they would be a great first-time experience for us. The kids had so much fun (and made a huge mess of Jason’s parent’s kitchen!)
And one final photo of 2012…saying goodbye to grandma and grandpa (and Lucy :(). Looking forward to a GREAT 2013!
And that was December!
Easter comes every year and with it comes pretty new dresses, chocolate bunnies, and colored Easter eggs. I don’t have a problem with a cultural celebration of holidays, but I also want to make sure that my children understand the spiritual significance of these holidays. Christmas and Easter are much more than fun days with food and gifts to be had. They are part of God’s plan of remembering His birth, His death, and His resurrection. Amidst the pretty eggs and fluffy bunnies, I want our family to remember and grasp the significance of Christ’s sacrifice.
For the past few years, I have really wanted to have a Seder meal with my family. This is definitely not something I grew up with, but it was something I knew some friends did and it sounded like something I really wanted to try. For those of you not familiar with it (I sure wasn’t!), a Seder Meal is celebrating the Passover. Obviously, we aren’t Jewish. However, I think that there is a lot to be learned by taking part of this celebration of God’s deliverance of His people when He brought them out of Egypt. Even more so, for us as Christians, it is a celebration of God’s deliverance of His people when He gave His life upon the cross as the perfect spotless lamb. On Good Friday, a day commemorating Christ’s death, a Passover meal and order of service provides as way (at least in my mind) of bridging the gap between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Passover as a way of teaching their children about how He miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Many years later, Jesus and His disciples traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in accordance with God’s command. There, they shared a final meal before Christ’s ultimate betrayal. In the first Passover, a lamb’s blood was placed above the doorposts of a home so that the angel of God would pass over and not bring death. In the Ultimate Passover, Christ’s blood was placed upon a cross so that God’s wrath could be satisfied and we would not taste death. The Passover and Good Friday belong together.
Last year I thought that my kids were finally old enough to attempt our first Seder Meal. I asked around for ideas of what to do (I had absolutely no idea), and our good friends recommended the book Celebrating Biblical Feasts. I bought it a day or two before Good Friday and quickly realized that with a brand new baby and being in the middle of seven birthdays, two days was not long enough to prepare. So, I put it off a year. We were in danger of skipping it this year as well, due to another busy spring (those same seven birthdays keep popping up!) and the fact that Jason’s birthday was actually on Good Friday. But I was determined and so even though we celebrated a day late, I am so glad we did it.
I won’t go into all the order and spiritual significance of the event. You can read about it many places. You can (and should!) read the book and you can even get a printable copy of the script from the book publisher. We modified it quite a bit, accounting for time and for the ages of our children (and the fact that Alaina was incredibly sick and she is our only confident reader). But, we made it work and we learned a lot. Both Jason and I got done with the evening and thought, “Yes, this is definitely something that we will repeat.” Our God is a God of memories. He wanted the Israelites to remember. He wants us to remember. And He commands that we teach it to our children.
“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.” Exodus 12: 14
“And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Exodus 12:26, 27
Left: Traditionally, the woman of the home wears a white head covering during the service. She also lights the candles at the beginning of the meal. Right: Me acting out being a Jewish man who had escaped from Egypt during the Exodus.
Because life is always crazy in a big family, Levi lost his first tooth in the middle of the service. I was in the bathroom getting changed and I heard Jason say, “Don’t worry, Levi. I know exactly what to do.” I came out to see him taking pictures. Good husband.
A few tips:
- Plan ahead. This isn’t something that can be thrown together in an hour or two, especially if you have young kids and need to modify the service.
- Don’t worry about it being perfect. We couldn’t get or didn’t have time to get some of the items, including the roasted lamb bone. We used chicken. We made other substitutions as necessary. It is the symbolism that is important.
- Read through the script and take out any parts that you think are far above the level of your children. We took out a few parts including setting a place for Elijah. I figure that we have lots of years to add things in. I didn’t want to overwhelm the kids with too much that they didn’t understand.
We are officially in birthday season around here. Alaina starts us off at the end of January and then the rest of us celebrate six birthdays in eight weeks! It is crazy, fun, and totally exhausting. By the time May 2 rolls around and we are done, I am SO thankful that it is another nine months before I have to think birthday again.
That said, we have tons of fun! We always do our best to truly celebrate the lives of our children. They get to pick the meals for the day and they get to choose an activity that we do as a family. They look forward to it and often have their idea planned out months (if not a year!) in advance.
In addition, we try to do a few other special things on or around their birthday. One-on-one time with mom and/or dad is a must. With five children in the family, it is important to take time to spend time with them individually. We LOVE being a big family and think that there are many benefits to growing up among siblings, but we also want to ensure that our children know and understand that they are treasured as an individual. Birthdays are a great way to do that.
Katie’s birthday celebrations were a multi-day affair. Her Daddy forgot to look at the calendar when planning his biggest event of the year at school (Elementary Sports Day) and set it for Katie’s birthday. So, we stretched the celebrations over a few days, which made Katie insanely happy. Even now, she refuses to admit that her birthday is over.
Part one of her birthday was actually two days before. She wanted “Mommy’s Special Cinnamon Rolls” for breakfast. They are very time-consuming so we opted to have them on Sunday morning rather than rush on a day when Jason had to work.
Then, on her actual birthday, I took her out for a special Mommy and Me birthday lunch.
That night, Katie requested cooking hotdogs and marshmallows over a fire in the backyard and then cupcakes, “with chocolate sprinkles” for dessert. Her wish is my command.
The next day, Jason took a personal day and we fulfilled Katie’s biggest wish: to go ice skating! And before and after skating, Alaina and I took Katie on a mini girl’s day out. Starbucks, Coldstone, nail polish…what more could a girl want?
Only five more birthdays to go! Next up, Bethany! My girl turns ONE in eight days! Eek!
Normally, I am someone who wants to start listening to Christmas music in June. By the time November rolls around, I am about jumping out of my skin because I am so excited about the holiday season. Even though we live overseas—which definitely makes the season a little more low-key—I still love all things Christmas. The music, the lights, the cozy feel, and the food. Oh, the food!
But for some reason this year, I am having trouble getting into the spirit. I feel like June was yesterday and so I can’t figure out how Christmas can be in just a few weeks. It’s been a busy and crazy and emotion-filled year and December just sort of snuck up on me. And because of that, I haven’t purchased even one gift. We are planning on doing Christmas fairly small this year, but still, it’s December 7 and I have nothing.
So, today I actually started thinking about what to give the kids. We have a few traditional gifts (like Christmas PJ’s and an ornament) and there are a few things that I know each of them want, but I usually like to throw a few other things in there too. As I sat down today to think through things and to search online for ideas and inspiration, I really started pondering what the greatest gift I could give them would be. And it was easy to see that it isn’t the Legos or the dolls or the big set of craft supplies. No, it is something much bigger. I want my children to have the best.
The best me.
I want to give my children LOVE: I want them to have a mother who truly loves them and expresses that love not just in words, but also in deeds. I want my actions and attitude to exhibit my deep love for my kids so that even if the words were gone, they would never question my love.
I want to give my children JOY: I want to create a joyful home—one that is full of laughter and silliness and a true grasp that all things are in God’s control and therefore we can always rejoice. I want to be a joyful mother, not doing my work grudgingly but with a cheerful heart and attitude.
I want to give my children PEACE: I want our home to be a peaceful place. I do not want our hours and days to be filled with stress, hurry, and angry words. I want to be organized, disciplined, and rest-filled so that our home is a place that the children (and Jason) long to be in after time in the “real” harsh world. I want my family to be in our home and just say, “Ahhh….”
I want to give my children PATIENCE: I want my children to have a patient mother—a mother who understands their ages and limitations and extends them loving grace even in the midst of training and discipline. I want to be patient with their short-comings, personality quirks, and childish ways.
I want to give my children KINDNESS: I want my children to have a mother who looks for ways to serve them. I don’t want to just do the bare minimum while I quietly hope that no one else needs anything. I want to be intentionally kind—looking for ways to express my love for them. I want to speak kind words—to them, about them, and about others.
I want to give my children GOODNESS: I want to give my children a mother who is good and who seeks the good for others. I want to always be above reproach and never afraid that listening ears may pick up on sinful hypocrisy.
I want to give my children GENTLENESS: Oh how I long for gentleness! I want to give my children a mother who speaks in gentle words and with a gentle tone of voice. I want my facial expressions to be gentle, my touch to be gentle, and my correction to be gentle. I don’t ever want my kids to avoid me for fear of harshness.
I want to give my children FAITHFULNESS: I want to give them a mother who is always, always faithful—faithful to them, faithful to their daddy, faithful to my word, and faithful to my work.
I want to give my children SELF-CONTROL: I want my children to have a mother who is strong enough to control her words, her actions, and her body language. I want my children to see a mother who intentionally chooses to do and/or say what is right even when emotions are high and sleep is low.
And so, although I am sure there will be some Legos and dolls and craft supplies under our tree this year, I pray that our home will also be filled with gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. And those, my friends, can’t be ordered online.